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Somaliland President Urges Calm After Deadly Clashes

By Alan Boswell
14 September 2009

The president of Somaliland is calling for his political opponents to cease public protests and to sit down at the table with him for renewed negotiations. Political protests in the breakaway republic of Somaliland turned deadly on Saturday, leaving three people dead and several others injured.

Somaliland President Dahir Riyale cautioned his political opposition against breaking the territory's peace, saying that peace is easy to maintain but hard to win back.

Policemen fired into a crowd Saturday after protesters began burning tires and hurling stones when opposition lawmakers were denied access to the parliament building.

On Sunday, President Dahir Riyale urged the territory's citizens to take a long look towards the south, where the Western-backed Mogadishu government is engaged in a bloody struggle against opposing Islamic militant groups in central and southern Somalia.

He said instability in the breakaway territory plays into the hands of the radical Islamist group al-Shabab. The spiritual leader of al-Shabab recently released a taped message threatening the Somaliland government.

Last week a brawl broke out between members of the Lower House of Parliament after it was ruled a motion to impeach the president could proceed constitutionally. Security forces stormed the building after a parliament member loyal to the president brandished a firearm.

The police have since maintained a lockdown on the building, refusing access to the enraged members of parliament.

A group of parliament members led by the speaker said they were going to peacefully re-enter their chamber on Saturday. When police again barred their way, the crowd that had gathered to escort the lawmakers turned riotous.

Mohamed Nor Arale, one of the opposition members of parliament, says citizens must rescue Somaliland from the hands of the president, who is not interested in holding democratic elections according to the law.

Somaliland has been a pocket of stability and democracy, rare in a region marred with conflict. It broke away from Somalia after the central government collapsed in 1991, although it has yet to be recognized by the international community as a separate state.

Somaliland's election commission has indefinitely postponed elections scheduled for later this month. It was the third delay in a vote that was originally scheduled for April 2008.

President Riyale, who has been in power since 2002, faces strong challenges from two presidential opponents. Both opposition parties have rejected his position that elections should be held without proper voter registration lists.

A number of journalists were detained by police for covering the Saturday clashes. Watchdog groups have accused the government of cracking down on journalistic freedom in the territory.

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